Seoul/Beijing, 23 February 2020 (dpa/MIA) – South Korea decided to raise its alert over the coronavirus to its highest level, President Moon Jae In announced on Sunday, after the country reported over 150 new cases of the virus.
Moon said that the government would strengthen its overall emergency response as part of declaring the “red” alert level, and that local authorities should take “unprecedented, powerful” measures to contain the coronavirus, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
South Korea reported 169 new cases of coronavirus and two new deaths, bringing the total confirmed infections to 602 and the death toll to six, according to the Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Meanwhile, Chinese health authorities reported 648 new cases and 97 new deaths, bringing the total number of infections nationwide to 76,936 while fatalities rose to 2,442.
In South Korea, Prime Minister Chung Sye Kyun on Friday promised “strong and swift” measures to prevent the virus from spreading further, including designating Daegu and Cheongdo as “special care zones,” according to news agency Yonhap.
Daegu’s 2.5 million residents on Thursday were advised to stay at home by Mayor Kwon Young Jin in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Authorities said that cases were also reported in the capital Seoul, the central south-west province of Chungcheong and on Jeju Island.
The Seoul city government said it would ban rallies and close down church services of the Shincheonji Christian sect as part of measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 illness, Yonhap reported.
Of the new confirmed cases, 75 were linked with the church according to the KCDC.
The South Korean outbreak, mainly involving the cities of Daegu and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang province, led the United States to raise its travel advisory for the country, advising citizens travelling to the country to exercise increased caution.
The US State Department issued the same level of alert for citizens travelling to Japan, where the total number of confirmed cases in has grown to 770, including three deaths.
Over 630 of the infected were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined with its 3,700 passengers and crew in a Japanese port for two weeks as a precaution.
Japan’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that a Japanese man in his 80s who was on the cruise ship had died from pneumonia, the third death among those who were on the vessel.
The ministry declined to say whether the man tested positive for the Covid-19 illness.
On Thursday, two Japanese passengers – an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman – died from the Covid-19 disease.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said late Saturday that his ministry had failed to test 23 Princess Diamond passengers before they disembarked from the ship.
“I deeply regret our mistake. We will do our utmost not to repeat a similar mistake,” the minister told reporters, adding that the passengers had been asked to get tested.
A woman released from the ship was confirmed to have the disease, the first case since a total of 969 passengers disembarked from Wednesday to Friday after testing negative, the government said late on Saturday.
A total of 89 passengers released on Saturday are subject to further monitoring while staying at a government facility near Tokyo.
On Sunday, a third government-chartered flight brought passengers back to Hong Kong from the cruise ship.
The flight contained five passengers from the ship together with a team of government officials from Hong Kong tasked with the logistics of working with Japanese officials to clear them for travel. They will now be put in a further 14-day quarantine, according to local broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong.
The number of Hong Kong residents still being treated in Japan for Covid-19 is 70, while 30 are waiting to be repatriated.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) said on Sunday that none of the 19 Taiwanese nationals leaving the Diamond Princess was infected. All of them will undergo for a 14-day quarantine at a government facility.
Tens of millions of people remain on lockdown across China as the government attempts to stop the spread of the virus, with transportation between many provinces limited and offices and schools shuttered.